For those of you that didn’t get to Salesforce Cloudforce in London, Englad which was the regional user event or seen a salesforce event then I can tell you that when it comes to hoopla and hype, very few vendors outdo Salesforce these days. Further progress since my last analysis earlier this year (See: “salesforce.com brings New Cloud Computing Ecosystem to Europe and Internet”) As Mark Benioff the CEO was quick to tell us, despite trends in the industry, revenues are up, new client deals are up, and registered subscribers have broken the 2 million mark. All of this is testament to what I believe, which is that the cloud argument is won and many more companies are now looking towards cloud-based solutions as they look to upgrade or enhance their IT systems. The big question is what companies expect when they get behind the hype and what business issues do the Salesforce application actually support.
First and foremost one can’t ignore the fact that Force.com, software platform as a service has produced one of the most revolutionary development environments for decades. User after user, partner after partner, ISV after ISV make comments such as “it is easy to use”, “you don’t need experts to developed new applications”, “it is much faster than expected”, “it is easier to integrate”, and of course “it is cheaper”. In fact one or two CIOs went as far as to say (in private as well as publically) that it was the first time in their history that they were able to focus on innovating their IT architecture rather than just keeping what they had in place running.
But Force.com is really for the IT and ISV community and line of business professional need to know what it can do for them. The answer boils down to 4 things: improve sales operations with SFA, support employees resolving all types of customer interactions, development of smarter, easier to use customer portals and user communities, and enable greater collaboration within a company. Sales Cloud 2 includes all the functionality required to support SFA, including creating contacts, managing opportunities, a rather neat new way of scheduling meetings that avoids multiple calls or emails, a knowledge repository that makes it easy to find, view and amend sales materials, and all the dashboards and reports (which have been made easier to configure) that different users need to manage sales.
Salesforce Service Cloud 2 is slightly more difficult to position. The name suggests that in a similar way to Sales Cloud 2 that it is about managing a customer service operation. In reality what it supports is what I term a smart desktop and a customer portal – both absolutely essential capabilities to make handling of customer interaction, either over the phone or through a self-service portal, not only more efficient but effective, thereby saving operational costs and delivering enhanced customer experiences which as my benchmark research finds is essential for business today. The smart desktop essentially brings everything known about a customer, both past and present, together on a single desktop making it much easier for customer service agents, inside or outside a contact center, to resolve customer calls. The information includes all the static data about the customer and records of all past interactions, including items downloaded from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This full view allows agents to resolve calls quicker using the channel preferred by the customer e.g. a customer that first raised an issue on a social media site can receive the solution via the same site. Salesforce Service Cloud 2 also supports companies creating smart customer self-service portal and customer community sites where customers can interact with other customers that have the same issue.
As I pointed out, companies should be aware that as it stands Service Cloud 2 by itself doesn’t cover all aspects of running a customer service operation and it isn’t a full contact center in the cloud. Companies looking to support these need to look to partners that have complimentary solutions that are already integrated with Service Cloud 2. There were two at the event of particular interest. NewVoiceMedia has a solution that provides intelligent call routing, which integrates with Service Cloud 2 without the need for any additional software and thus takes a further step towards a contact center in the cloud. Clicktools has a product that sits in front of the Service Cloud 2 desktop and allows companies to script or simplify data entry for agents. This is very useful in helping guide new agents through handling a call and speeds up overall call handling times since data only needs to be entered once and the product takes care of updating all relevant salesforce fields, as well as other applications.
The very latest announcement was about Salesforce Chatter that my colleague recently covered at Dreamforce (See: “Salesforce Chatter Brings Social Collaboration and Media into Business”), or more precisely a Collaboration Cloud. This rather seems to have been driven by Benioff’s belief that if “friends” can collaborate easily in the cloud using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. then employees in a company should be able to do the same, but in a much more secure manner. Hence the launch of Chatter, or as it seems quickly to have become called “Facebook for the enterprise”. Neither of these terms real do it justice since as well as all the Facebook type functionally, almost anything inside, and indeed outside, any salesforce cloud can be tagged and defined individuals or groups can be notified of any status changes e.g. any change to a sales status can quickly be raised as an event to all defined members of a group. The idea is that it will enable cross-departmental, cross-functional groups and individuals to collaborate more effectively and thus improve overall performance. In these tough economic times I have my doubts about how many companies could justify the expenditure; although quite surprisingly many of the CIOs I spoke to believe that if salesforce get the pricing right then they will push to implement it.
My final take was that the most often used word of the day was “innovation”. Salesforce were obviously pushing this quite hard since they have recently released research that shows that CIOs are now more concerned with supporting innovation than “just keeping the lights on”. Coincidentally IBM also just released a similar report which supports the same findings. Like it or not the driver behind this seems most definitely to be the transition to the cloud, with again many of the CIOs I spoke with also saying this was the main benefit of working with salesforce.com. As I wrote recently (see “What to Look for When Buying a Hosted Call Centre Solution“) provided the solution supports the functionality you need to improve your business, the cloud really is opening up the opportunity for small to very large companies to be more innovative and support the business as it tries to adjust to the new business environment we find ourselves in. Salesforce has clearly made progress in their ability to provide an alternative to traditional software or as my colleague calls the UnSoftware (See: “Salesforce Dreamforce: The Business Focus of the UnSoftware”).
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Richard Snow – VP & Research Director